What did we learn from the NAO Condition of school buildings Report, and how does it affect your school?


In June 2023 the National Audit Office (NAO) released the Conditions of school buildings report. Covering the state schools in England, the report paints a concerning picture about the declining state school infrastructure.

In this article we discuss explain the main issues affecting the condition of schools across England and what this means for your school.

Concern 1: 38% of school buildings are beyond their design life

Across England the NAO found some 38% of schools to be beyond their estimated design life. 10,000 school buildings were constructed in 1940 and a further 13,800 buildings were constructed pre 1980 using a ‘system-built’ method, with a design life of 40 years. 3,600 of these system-built blocks have been identified as particularly susceptible to deterioration. While a building at the end of its design life can continue to be used, it typically is more expensive to maintain, and will suffer from poor energy efficiency, leading to higher operational costs. 

Concern 2: 700,000 pupils are learning in buildings requiring major rebuild or refurbishment

Research consistently demonstrates the impact physical learning environments has on  student performance and well-being. However the NAO report finds that 700,000 pupils are attending schools that suffer from inadequate heating, poor ventilation, and outdated facilities.  80% of schools are also known to have identified asbestos in their buildings. When carefully maintained, asbestos does not pose a significant health risk, but serious diseases can occur if asbestos is disturbed or damaged, meaning rebuild and refurbishment works must be planned carefully.

Concern 3: 14,900 schools constructed with concrete susceptible to failure

Reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete (RAAC) is a lightweight form of concrete. RAAC was identified as a potential issue in 2018 following a school safety incident.  14,900 schools have been identified for RAAC assessment, and 572 schools have so far been identified as potentially containing RAAC. DfE funding is available to schools with RAAC to enable immediate action.

Concern 4: Insufficient funding and ineffective spending

Since 2016/17 the DfE has spent on average £2.3bn on school buildings a year, a far cry from the £5.3bn it said was required. This lack of funding has undoubtably contributed the deterioration of schools across England. The report finds that while the allocation of funding has improved, more work is needed and surprisingly 15% of eligible schools did not apply for maintenance and repair funding between 2016/17 and 2022/23.  Where funding is allocated, the use of funds can be ineffective for example spending on urgent repairs, rather than planned maintenance which is typically less cost effective.

What does this mean for you school?

While the NAO report examines the performance of DfE, there are important learnings and actions for schools too.  As a matter of urgency schools potentially impacted by RAAC or system-built blocks should ensure they have followed up requested actions from either the DfE or local authority. It is also recommended that all school leaders ensure that they have an effective property strategy in place.  Asset management, school capacity planning, space utilisation, health and safety and technological improvements should all be captured. Financial planning including budget and funding strategy should also be considered, including funds for ongoing planned maintenance, as well as refurbishments and upgrades.

Help and support It’s important to remember you don’t need to do this alone. APSL Group are experts in built environment, helping schools reduce the cost of property, while ensuring facilities support students and staff needs. Working with school leaders we develop and deliver comprehensive property strategies for schools.  Addressing everything from urgent safety and compliance issues, through to long-term school improvements, and backed by innovative fundings solutions, APSL create environments to support better learning outcomes.